Fourth Division tightens grip on border crossings with Jordan, Lebanon
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
The Syrian regime has made adjustments to the security apparatus at the border crossings in Syria, including the Nassib border crossing with Jordan, in addition to the crossings in Homs governorate that overlook Lebanese territory.
According to a circular issued by the National Security Office directly affiliated with the Presidency of the Republic, on 1 January, of which Enab Baladi obtained a copy, a security force consisting of five security agencies, in addition to the Fourth Division, was formed to manage the extended legal and illegal crossings on the borders with neighboring countries.
The circular, which Enab Baladi verified through an officer of the regime forces with the rank of lieutenant colonel on top of his work in the central region, stipulates the formation of a common checkpoint at the legal crossings from the four security agencies (Political Security, Military Security, State Security, and Air Intelligence).
With the participation of the Fourth Division, people and civil cars were searched with the participation of members of the customs.
At the illegal crossings, it constitutes a common barrier for the security branches and the Fourth Division and patrols the contact lines to control the smuggling of money and goods and to help control the exchange rate of the Syrian pound against the dollar.
In October 2021, after the end of the “security settlements” throughout Daraa, the forces of the Fourth Division deployed at the Nassib border crossing retreated, along with the withdrawal of its forces deployed in the city center and the western countryside of the governorate.
This withdrawal carried with it a clear explanation of one of the terms of the “security settlement” agreement, according to which the Syrian regime took control of all the southern regions, as the agreement stipulated the Russian deployment in the region and the prevention of Iranian deployment there, especially on the borders between Syria, Jordan, and Israel.
The Jordanian political analyst Salah Malkawi told Enab Baladi that the security points of the Fourth Division expanded after 2018 and spread across the various Syrian governorates, but this expansion excluded the Naseeb crossing between Syria and Jordan due to “Jordan’s apprehension of the dependency of the Fourth Division to Iran.”
He added that one of Iran’s strategic goals is to “reach points of contact with Jordan,” and this desire increased with the issuance of the US law related to drug control in Syria at the end of 2022.
Malkawi also said that military reinforcements of the Fourth Division have recently arrived at the crossing, and the regime’s pretext is to prevent drug smuggling, knowing that the Fourth Division itself is “the dynamo of smuggling, looting, and paying royalties, and it has a history in this field.”
Malkawi added that Jordan cannot stand without responding to these changes on its northern borders.
There was no official comment from the Jordanian side on these security changes adjacent to its borders until this report was published.
On 24 December 2022, US President Joe Biden signed the US defense budget for the fiscal year 2023, which was presented by the Congress, including the law against drug trade run by the Syrian regime.
Race for control
The security services are racing to control the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in light of the increase in illegal revenues at the crossing, the dire economic conditions that Syria is suffering from, and international pressures regarding the file of drug smuggling across the border.
The regime’s security services have been taking turns managing and protecting the crossing since its reopening in October 2018.
Enab Baladi contacted a military commander in the Eighth Brigade in Daraa, who is familiar with the operation of the Nassib border crossing.
He said that new decisions were recently issued by the capital, Damascus, surprisingly, aiming to regulate the work of the crossing.
On top of these decisions, the National Security office requested to cancel the mandate of the Political Security division to manage and run the affairs of the crossing after more than four years of managing it.
The increasing influence of the Political Security at the crossing coincided with previous preparations made by the regime to receive returnees from Jordan to Syria who are wanted on political charges.
Meanwhile, the Air Force Intelligence, which is close to Iran, took over the central administration at the crossing, along with a detachment from the State Security and Military Security.
The most prominent change, in contrast to the previous series of decisions, is that the Fourth Division, represented by the Division Security Office, has become responsible for protecting the entire security of the crossing.
The commander in the Eighth Brigade, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said that the fact that the Fourth Division is responsible for protecting the crossing means that its members will be deployed from the Syrian gate in Nassib all the way to the Jordanian side, where the Jordanian security forces are stationed.
Today, the number of the Fourth Division at the Nassib crossing has reached 70, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Bassim Fawaz, who was the commander of the Yafour checkpoint, the most important checkpoint on the Syria-Lebanon road.
The commander in the Eighth Brigade stated that Lieutenant Colonel Fawaz was supervising smuggling operations between Syria and Lebanon and was involved in many smuggling files, which qualified him to manage the tasks of the Fourth Division at the Nassib border crossing.
Smuggling crossings in Homs
Security changes in terms of crossings and smuggling lines extended to Homs governorate, as the leadership of the Fourth Division replaced the officer in charge of its forces in the central region and assigned him to manage the area adjacent to the Syrian-Lebanese border in the Qalamoun region in the countryside of the capital, Damascus.
This coincided with a change in the way the Fourth Division checkpoints deal with pedestrians in the area, as the checkpoint personnel no longer receive royalties from them.
Crossing checkpoints has also become routine, and passers-by have not been subject to inspection for a few days, with the exception of the checkpoint stationed at the entrance to the town of al-Jarniyeh on the Syrian-Lebanese border, as passers-by are still subject to inspection.
The transit of fuel is also prohibited, other than what is contained in the fuel tanks of cars and motorcycles, according to what Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Homs reported.
The security barrier was under the authority of the Military Security before the recent changes, while no information is available about the changes that occurred in the management of the checkpoint until the date of publishing this report.
In early January, the Fourth Division opened the door to the membership for young men in the northern and western countryside of Homs, in exchange for salaries ranging between 200,000 and 250,000 Syrian pounds, in addition to a monthly food basket that is distributed to its members.
The Fourth Division is seeking to strengthen its security barriers on the strip adjacent to the Lebanese border, and in the villages and towns that lie on the smuggling lines to and fro, according to fighters working in the ranks of the Fourth Division, interviewed by Enab Baladi earlier.
The administration of some checkpoints was also transferred from the authority of the Military Security and Air Force Intelligence to the authority of the Fourth Division to almost completely control the smuggling routes in both directions.
From Aleppo to Deir Ezzor
The security barriers of the Fourth Division forces are concentrated on the lines separating the areas of influence, in the same way, they are deployed on the borders with neighboring countries, as these barriers are considered the first line that separates the areas of influence of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the city of Aleppo from the areas of regime control.
These checkpoints are spread in the vicinity of Sheikh Maqsoud and Ashrafieh neighborhoods in the city of Aleppo, as both neighborhoods are under the control of the US-backed Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria.
The Fourth Division checkpoints previously closed the roads to the movement of goods trucks loaded with flour, which caused an acute shortage of bread inside Sheikh Maqsoud.
This closure was repeated in October 2022, causing a fuel crisis in the Kurdish neighborhoods.
From Aleppo towards the east, the checkpoints of the Fourth Division are stationed near the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, which is crowded with illegal smuggling crossings between the areas of influence of the SDF and the Syrian regime on the banks of the Euphrates River.
These checkpoints also prevented, on 1 January, the movement of fuel between the two areas of influence, and the Fourth Division checkpoints even stipulated that cars carrying less than ten liters of fuel be allowed to cross.
The closure of the Fourth Division checkpoints on the roads for smugglers between its areas of influence and the areas of influence of the SDF was reflected in the cigarette market in the city of Deir Ezzor, as tobacco prices increased by 65%, according to the local Deir Ezzor 24 (D24) network.
Syria, home of Captagon
According to the American Coalition for Syria, al-Assad has transformed Syria into a narco-state where drug traffickers produce and distribute massive amounts of the illicit drug Captagon, a highly addictive drug in the amphetamine family. It is currently the most in-demand narcotic in the Middle East and neighboring Mediterranean countries, with more than 40 tons of pills (36,453 Kg or 231,023,826 pills) seized in 2022 alone. The size of these seizures, valued in billions of dollars, is indicative of the scale of the traffic.
The Captagon drug trade netted the regime an estimated 5.7 billion US dollars in revenues in 2021, thus allowing al-Assad to overcome sanctions meant to deny him access to hard currency. In fact, the Assad regime makes more money off of the export of Captagon than all other legal exports combined, according to the American Coalition for Syria.
In early 2022, Enab Baladi had discussed, in an investigation titled “Drugs: Al-Assad’s solution to boost economy and blackmail neighboring countries,” the extent of the involvement of the regime, especially the Fourth Division, and the al-Assad family in Syria’s illicit Captagon business, making it the country’s primary source of financial returns amid a collapsing economy by the decade-long conflict.
Enab Baladi also shed light in the report on how the regime has been using drug trafficking as a pressure card to achieve certain interests without any external control or interference.
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